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2011-08-10

Over 1,000 Arrested in U.K. as Anger over Inequality, Racism Boils Over into "Insurrection"

Guests

Darcus Howe, broadcaster and columnist who lives in Brixton, South London. His TV work includes White Tribe, in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. Howe organized the 20,000-strong Black People’s March in 1981, claiming official neglect and inefficient policing of the investigation of the New Cross Fire, in which 13 black teenagers died.

Richard Seymour, one of Britain’s most popular bloggers based in London. He blogs at Lenin’s Tomb. He is author of The Liberal Defence of Murder and The Meaning of David Cameron.

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Unrest continues to spread across England after protests erupted Saturday in London when police shot to death Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black man. Mobs firebombed police stations and set shops on fire in London, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Birmingham. After waiting for several days, Prime Minister David Cameron has cut short his vacation and recalled Parliament from summer recess. Scotland Yard has ordered its officers to deploy every available force to stop the unrest, including water cannons and possibly the use of plastic bullets. London has been flooded with 16,000 officers, the largest police presence in the city’s history. We go to London to speak with journalist Darcus Howe, a longtime critic of police brutality in black and West Indian communities across the U.K., and author and blogger Richard Seymour of the popular British site "Lenin’s Tomb." "There is a mass insurrection. And I’m not talking about rioting; I’m talking about an insurrection that comes from the depths of society, from the consciousness, collectively, of the young blacks and whites, but overwhelmingly black, as a result of the consistent stopping and searching young blacks without cause," says Howe of the uprising. Seymour notes that anti-terror legislation has led to an unprecedented number of stops, predominantly of youth of color, but protests against the stops have been largely ignored by the British media. "A political establishment, a media, and a state system that gives people…the impression that they won’t be listened to, unless they force themselves onto your attention, is going to lead to riots," says Seymour. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Unrest continues to spread across Britain, after protests erupted Saturday in London, when police shot to death a young black man who was a suspected gang member, they said. Mobs firebombed police stations and set shops on fire in London, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Birmingham.

After waiting for several days, Prime Minister David Cameron has cut short his Italian vacation and recalled Parliament to respond to the situation. Scotland Yard has ordered its officers to deploy every available force, including possible use of plastic bullets, to stop the riots. London yesterday was flooded with 16,000 police officers, the biggest police presence in the capital in history.

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the IPCC, found that Mark Duggan, the 29-year-old black man whose death triggered the riots, did not fire on the police before he was shot.

RACHEL CERFONTYNE: One of the main developments that I can share is the tests we commissioned from the Forensic Science Service have so far confirmed that the bullet lodged in the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] radio is a jacketed round. This is a police-issue bullet, and whilst it is still subject to DNA analysis, it is consistent with having been fired from an MPS Heckler & Koch MP5.

AMY GOODMAN: A representative for Mark Duggan’s family said they were very sorry his death had led to the riots. Helen Shaw of the human rights group Inquest said his family is distressed at the unrest.

HELEN SHAW: The family want everyone to know that the disorder going on has nothing to do with finding out what has happened to Mark. They also want everyone to know that they are deeply distressed by the disorder affecting so many communities across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Links between Duggan’s death and the unrest were rejected by British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who characterized the disorder as, quote, "needless, opportunistic theft and violence, nothing more, nothing less."

Well, as protests enter their fourth day, with more than 760 people arrested in London, at least 50 people have been arrested over trouble in Manchester and Salford, where crowds of youths have set fire to buildings and cars, while almost a hundred have been arrested over disorder which broke out across the West Midlands.

We go to London, where we’re joined by Darcus Howe, a broadcaster and columnist who lives in Brixton, South London. His TV work includes White Tribe, in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. Howe organized the 20,000-strong Black People’s March in 1981, claiming official neglect and inefficient policing of the investigation of the New Cross Fire in which 13 black teenagers died.

We’re also joined in London by Richard Seymour, one of Britain’s most popular bloggers. He blogs at "Lenin’s Tomb." He’s author of The Liberal Defence of Murder and The Meaning of David Cameron.

We’re going to go first to Darcus Howe. Talk about what is happening in your country right now, what is happening in Britain.

DARCUS HOWE: There is a mass insurrection. And I’m not talking about rioting; I’m talking about an insurrection that comes from the depths of society, from the consciousness, collectively, of the young blacks and whites, but overwhelmingly black, as a result of the consistent stopping and searching young blacks without cause. They changed the law. Before, you had to provide evidence that you were looking at this character, doing this and bouncing ladies and pushing his hand in a handbag, before they stop and search you. They moved that clean out and replaced it with anti-terror legislation, that you could stop and search anybody, anytime, anywhere. And my grandson is 14 years old, and I asked him, I said, "Nathan, how many times have you been stopped and searched?" He said, "Papa, I can’t count, it’s so many." And that anger has been simmering beneath the surface, because when you have hundreds of thousands of young people acting simultaneously, the issue has to be simultaneously experienced. And so, when Mark Duggan was executed, they all had empathy with it and issues in their minds about what life is and what it is not.

The second practical thing is they’re on holidays. The school year is over. And anybody who’s been cooped up in a classroom in your teens for a term, you want out. And you feel freedom of—a spiritual freedom. You breathe widely, hahhh, and you say, "School over, monkey turn over." So, that is a moment. I don’t think it would have happened in January or the middle of October or anything. It’s summer. It’s warm. In fact, some of the nights were quite hot.

And Mark Duggan lost his life. The Operation Trident—we have known Operation Trident for a long time. They came to investigate murders, and they did absolutely brilliantly. And I have been all open in saying it’s a fine squad. Now, everything is changing in the Metropolitan Police. It is perhaps one of the most disgraced organization in the United Kingdom at the moment. And it’s headless—no commissioner, no deputy commissioner. So all these guys who are head of these operations—special operations, special ops, Razorback, Operation Razorback, Operation Trident—they’re all over the place, jostling to draw the attention of the authorities to get that big job and the deputy. And so, they go to Tottenham, where the first explosion took place, without telling the commander of that area. They were carrying that Glock Heckler pistol. That is a murderous weapon. It is the most murderous weapon you can ever put in your hands. In bright, broad daylight, among ordinary people, and they blew his chest away. Up to—they said that he had a pistol. Now they’re saying the extra pistol wasn’t his. We don’t know.

So, two things. When they demonstrated, the family, to the police station, the commander, he could not come out and say anything, because he was fussing all around trying to get in contact with his men on the ground. Nobody knew. And they did that and went their way. And so, the degeneration of the Metropolitan Police, the competition for the job of Metropolitan commissioner and deputy commissioner, that competition is on. And each one, they want to—each commander would like to go to the extreme and put up his hand and beat his chest and say, "I qualify." And that is the spirit at Scotland Yard.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Seymour—

DARCUS HOWE: And it was inevitable that—

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to bring Richard Seymour into the discussion, Darcus.

DARCUS HOWE: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to bring Richard Seymour in and go back to the beginning, Mark Duggan, the killing of Mark Duggan, the 29-year-old black man, just to clearly understand—and you have written about this—what the police initially said and then what has come out over time, further angering people. Richard Seymour?

RICHARD SEYMOUR: Right. First of all, the circumstances of the killing are that they allowed people to believe that Mark Duggan had a weapon and that he shot that weapon at police officers, and that, therefore, you would conclude they fired back in self-defense. That’s absolutely untrue. The IPCC, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, has confirmed that the bullet that was fired and lodged in a police radio was a police bullet. So, it would be an interesting question, who fired that bullet and why? Which among the officers did so? But it certainly wasn’t Mark Duggan. So, they lied.

But in addition to that, they didn’t inform the family. They let the family find out from the media. And they didn’t send round a family liaison officer to speak to the family. None of the usual procedures, in this highly unusual circumstance, was followed. So, generally speaking, there was a backlash, a reaction against the police, as a result of this.

I just want to say also, in connection with this, Darcus mentioned the competition for the top jobs in the Metropolitan Police. It’s important to note the backdrop here. This is the deep crisis that has shaken the Metropolitan Police in the context of the hacking scandal, in relation to the relationships between top Metropolitan Police officials and the News of the World, News International empire. That has created a deep crisis within the police. It’s an ideological crisis as much as anything else. And so, this is, I expect, one of the reasons for the disarray that they’re in at the moment. And it will be wide. They are reaching for new weapons just today. David Cameron has allowed the police to use water cannon against rioters for the first time in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Just to explain, that’s the Murdoch scandal that you’re talking about that took out—

RICHARD SEYMOUR: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —the top leadership of Scotland Yard. But the protest at the police station the night of Mark Duggan’s killing by the police?

RICHARD SEYMOUR: Yeah. Well, I mean, this was, until a certain amount of provocation by the police, largely peaceful. I mean, it was a protest led by local community activists wanting answers, wanting dialogue with the police, and not getting it, and being fogged off. And the real flashpoint came, according to eyewitnesses, when a 16-year-old girl, who was shouting at the police, lines of riot police, demanding answers from them, was assaulted. She was beaten by several of them with batons and riot shields. Some of you may have seen the footage. It definitely shows that she’s on the ground. She’s getting a few hefty kicks, as well. Several independent eyewitnesses have verified this. So, I would say that the police have done more than enough to provoke this situation, which obviously raises the question of why anybody thinks that the police, having provoked it, have any solutions to resolving it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion. Richard Seymour blogs at "Lenin’s Tomb." Darcus Howe is a broadcaster, a columnist, who lives in Brixton. His TV work includes a number of pieces over the decades, and he’s particularly known for his criticism of police brutality issues in the communities in which he lives and covers. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Linton Kwesi Johnson, "Man Free (For Darcus Howe)." Linton Kwesi Johnson did this song for our guest, Darcus Howe. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our guests: Darcus Howe, broadcaster, columnist; Richard Seymour blogs at "Lenin’s Tomb." They’re both joining us from London.

Darcus Howe, that song, the significance of it? And give us the history of your community, of Brixton, and how you feel this might fit into that history, what is taking place today. Now more than a thousand people have been arrested across Britain.

DARCUS HOWE: It’s very repetitive of what happened in Brixton in 1981, the exact same thing. They were beating up, stop and search—Operation Swamp, it was—and actually swamped the entire community and searched anything that moved that was male and that was black. It was a clear distinction. And that exploded, I think, about 40 yards from my house. I was editor of The Journal. I led a demonstration of 20,000 people only weeks before. So I thought, the best thing—I told Mrs. Howe, "Let’s go to the office up the street and sit in there." And a serial of policemen lined up in front my office. So when I was asked, "Where you were when the riot was on?" I said, "You ask the police. They have my record of not only where I was, but everything I said on my phone."

And there’s a spontaneity. But the weakness is always the commentators, the press. It comes like a thief in the night to them, because they deal only with what has happened, not what is likely to happen, which is a kind of speculative truth. So they’re always surprised. And whenever there’s surprise, they look for people to blame, to cover up their own inadequacies. Whenever there’s surprise, they create a plot and a plan of some people—I don’t know if they were from Mars or what—as a result. And it is spontaneous.

Now, after Brixton, the riots snaked, as it is doing now exactly, through Birmingham, Manchester, all over, Leeds, Bradford. It even included a place in the south called Cirencester, of which I know nothing. I didn’t know any black people live there, in Gloucestershire. And so, the snake is traveling along the same path that it did in 1981.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do these communities have in common, Darcus?

DARCUS HOWE: There is absolutely no difference. There is no difference, in the minutest detail, the insurrection and the looting. I think there’s much more looting now, because they’re on school holidays. And one of the things about young people—because I was young once. I like—whatever in fashion, I must have it; otherwise I won’t get a girlfriend. This is the spirit of youth.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted—I wanted to get your comment, Darcus Howe—

DARCUS HOWE: Trousers, sneakers.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your comment on the London mayor, Boris Johnson, who walked through the streets of Clapham in South London with a broom on Tuesday, as residents launched a clean-up operation in one of the worst-hit areas of the violence. He criticized those seeking to justify the unrest.

MAYOR BORIS JOHNSON: It’s time we stop hearing all this, you know, nonsense about how there are deep sociological justifications for wanton criminality and destruction of people’s property. Whatever people’s grievances may be, it does not justify smashing up someone’s shop, wrecking their livelihood, and kicking them out of a job. That is not the way to behave. That’s not the way to have an economic recovery in this city.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the London mayor, Boris Johnson. Do you condemn the unrest, Darcus Howe? Do you—the riots that are destroying a lot of the communities and the business within the poorest communities of Britain right now?

DARCUS HOWE: Americans will remember the anger of black Americans at a certain point in history. Rap Brown celebrated that explosion, several explosions in Chicago [inaudible] every day. He says, "Burn, baby, burn!" That was his slogan. And it was approved by radical whites and blacks. They have a reason for it. Secondly, they’re very poor now. I have never known young people to be poor as they are now, in the midst of an avalanche of advertisements and celebrity, with the latest sneakers and top, and bouncing around with their little hats on their head. And they cannot get the money to buy it, so they rip off the front of the stores and steal it.

I am not an Anglican Christian. My father was. He was a priest. And therefore, I don’t walk around with 10 Commandments and use them at sharp, historical, political moments in the history of a tribe, in the history of a country, in the history of an inner city. They stole it, and they stole it. I don’t make any fuss when they have a lot of MPs and members of the House of Lords in jail for stealing. I don’t make a statement about democracy because a handful of them are thieves. So, this denigration of Boris’s people, because we’re all his citizens—and you look at one and speak about them in a certain way. But Boris is—Boris is Boris.

AMY GOODMAN: The Mayor of London.

DARCUS HOWE: He’s a highly educated man. He loves Greek civilization and all of that, but Boris doesn’t have—and he’d better be careful, because the Olympics are next year in the London inner city.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Richard Seymour about one of the pieces in The Guardian written by Caroline Davies, who says, "A total of 333 people have died in or following police custody over the past 11 years, but no officer has ever been successfully prosecuted." That’s according to the government; it’s according to a watchdog report. "Prosecutions were recommended against 13 officers based on 'relatively strong evidence of misconduct or neglect', but none resulted in a guilty verdict." This is quite remarkable. Three hundred thirty-three people have died in or following police custody over the last 11 years? This is more than two people a month over the last more than decade. Can you talk about the significance of this, Richard?

RICHARD SEYMOUR: Yeah. I mean, first of all, there has been, over the last generation or so, some efforts to overcome the antagonisms between the police and black communities in Britain, but that didn’t, obviously, get rid of institutional racism. Institutional racism was acknowledged in the outcome of the Lawrence Inquiry, but the steps undertaken to deal with it were obviously inadequate. And the result of that has been that there has been a disproportionate amount of stop and search of young black men, a disproportionate amount of harassment and violence, and of course, as you mentioned, deaths in police custody.

But it’s worth mentioning that it’s not just deaths in police custody. There are—there have been a number of recent notorious deaths outside of police custody, including that of Ian Tomlinson at a G20 protest, and including that of the artist Smiley Culture, who, they said, stabbed himself in the kitchen while police were visiting with him to discuss allegations of drugs. And I don’t think anybody really believes that, but there were peaceful protests in response to that, quite large protests by the local community. And to be honest, they were largely—in fact, completely—ignored by the media. They were a very important democratic moment, but just completely ignored.

And that puts these riots in an interesting light, because when one of the young people was asked by a reporter, "Do you really think the rioting is the right way to go about getting what you want?" he said, "Yes, because if we weren’t rioting, you wouldn’t be talking to us." A political establishment, a media, and a state system that gives people that impression, that gives people the impression that they won’t be listened to unless they force themselves onto your attention, is going to lead to riots.

AMY GOODMAN: Darcus Howe, do you have a sense that the feeling of people’s frustration, of the poverty, the austerity that’s being raised, goes across race, that you’re talking about the poor whites, as well, but also that it’s a class issue, but also that there are those that are taking advantage of a moment of frustration to riot, to steal?

DARCUS HOWE: Hello? Let me say this. I write a column, a fortnightly column, in the only black newspaper in the United Kingdom. And last week, before any Mark Duggan or anything—I write not from events only, from my historical sense, from my speculative truth. And I wrote, "I hope Amy Winehouse is floating in the stars, speaking in the air of authority, saying, 'No, no, no.'" That was a warning. I am not anybody with special qualities, that I could divine what is happening tomorrow. I am not some of those people who do it by magic, and you pay them a little and know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I wrote that specifically because of not only what my grandson was telling me, but the sound of his voice. You can—it hit another pitch. And his friends and his mom and my friends’ children, there was a sense that the lid was going to blow and blow sky-high. So I was not in any way surprised.

Who had to be surprised? Those who govern. So they could do nothing to stop it, because it doesn’t—they don’t know if it’s there. They don’t even know if black people are there. The Parliament, they didn’t even know what was there. It was there for all those who were paying attention, would see and listen to people, not question them and say, "Are you going to be rioting tomorrow?" No, you just ask questions. And then suddenly they burst out, as though they’re completely fed up. I assure you and your viewers I knew something was on the agenda. The police did not know. I was in no surprise when Trident killed Duggan, none whatsoever. And I’m not surprised that they’re going to use—I’m not surprised that they have weapons on the street now, armed police, and much more than normal. You mightn’t see it; it might be tucked in a car somewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you feel—

DARCUS HOWE: I’m not surprised that they’re tapping the phones of all of us who have been outspoken. And it’s no surprise, if I come down the road late and, no, they don’t see anybody else, to dive on me and pick me up and fancy a story. That is where we are now.

AMY GOODMAN: Darcus Howe, what do you think needs to be done?

DARCUS HOWE: And I’m not [inaudible] or anything. That’s what we are now.

AMY GOODMAN: What would you—Darcus, what would you—

DARCUS HOWE: Hmm?

AMY GOODMAN: —want to see happening right now? How do you think this should all be resolved? We’re talking about four days of this uprising, of the riots, of the fires, of more than a thousand people arrested, police out in the largest presence in history now in the streets of London and others. What do you think needs to happen right now?

DARCUS HOWE: There has to be an overture made to young blacks, saying, "Peace." And you could do that with making clear that you disassociate yourself—I’m talking about the Prime Minister now—disassociate themselves with Operation Trident and dissolve it, dissolve Operation Razorback, which is terrorizing communities right now.

And the other thing, the genuine black intellectuals and working-class unionists, and so on, should hold an international conference within the next six months to lay out precisely the state of society. We must have black Americans there. We must have broadcasters from all over the world and discuss the future of a civilization within a civilization, and make that absolutely clear. We invite delegates from Africa, we invite delegates from the Caribbean, and say this is not the country that Cameron boasts of—and how, beneath the surface, the terror and the disrespect—on the question of race, mainly—and we have to resolve it. We have to resolve it, and resolve it in a civilized way.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there.

DARCUS HOWE: Not go with a demonstration to the House of Lords or Parliament and to your MP and whatever. We have to lift it sky-high and let the entire civilization of this world know that what they’re doing in Afghanistan is much of what they do to kill people here. I’m not angry, but I’m deadly serious. Every time I walk the street, my eyes are scanning the landscape for rogue police officers. And that’s—I warn my children to do that, and my grandchildren.

AMY GOODMAN: Darcus Howe, I want to thank you for being with us—

DARCUS HOWE: I’m going to see them next Sunday.

AMY GOODMAN: Broadcaster and columnist who lives in Brixton, South London. Also, Richard Seymour, who blogs at "Lenin’s Tomb," both of them speaking to us from London. This is Democracy Now! Of course, we’ll continue to cover what is happening there, the unrest throughout the country.

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